"Punk didn't just change what I listened to and how I dressed. It altered my aesthetic sense completely. This is what music could do: change the shape of the world and my shape within it, how I saw, what I liked, and what I wanted to look like."
Lavinia Greenlaw is an award-winning poet and author whose childhood was unconventional to say the least, even though her father was a doctor. She came of age in England in the 1970s, a bland period when music was in the doldrums. Rock had morphed into something orchestral at one end and pop-flavored at the other. The older generation was still happy with
The Beatles and all that implied, while the kids Lavinia's age had no style to call their own.
Her family was not ignorant of music. Her mother, who sacrificed her own medical career to raise her children in a caring but hodge-podge way, made sure the siblings all played musical instruments (Lavinia was given a violin and later fell in love with a piano). They were taken to staid, structured "country dance" lessons with scores of stodgy children at Cecil Sharpe House, learning to stand up straight, move in unison, and queue on command. Ballet was more to the young Lavinia's liking until she lost touch with reality during her first recital. The family also went to real operas and listened to classical music. Musically, Lavinia had it all. But she wanted something else.
To bridge the gap, there was the radio, with sounds geared to people like her, sounds that linked her to the world beyond London, outside England. She and her friends from an early age attended "disco" at the local community center: "I fell in love at the Village Hall discos because they [the boys] could dance." The girls danced for each other, but the boys were always there. It was a distant form of courtship ritual.
Sometime in her teens, when she was feeling particularly out of it, Lavinia discovered
"Whatever clothes I had that weren't black, I dyed." She even dressed in garbage bags, a potent symbol of marginalization, a sign that you'd opted out and weren't coming back. Punk, with its DIY component, its amateurish aspect, appealed to youngsters who wanted something that was theirs, not susceptible to judgment by the old folks
- folks like Lavinia's dad who sang something called "barbershop" with his mates to the embarrassment of his children. Punk was anti- just about everything; immersing herself in it, Lavinia came close to missing out on everything, failing her university exams by a point or two for lack of attention.
It was at that juncture that she realized she did want to succeed academically. Since she is now a teacher of
creative writing at the Masters Level at the University of London, we assume that somewhere along the way she made up the deficit that
punk created. Yet she still likes to stress its importance to her as she learned how to grow up - the boys in their black leather jackets and piercings, the scathing irony, the wildly colored hair in points, the scungy side of life that
punk offered to her and her friends. Somehow it's all of piece with Lavinia's creativity, her willingness to look beyond the ordinary and to encourage that trait in others.
This is memoir with meaning. And you don't have to be a girl to grok it.